Guilford Courthouse, Battle of

views updated May 18 2018

Guilford Courthouse, Battle of (1781).A pivotal Revolutionary War battle, the engagement at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, strategically altered the war's course and ultimately led to victory in the South and at the Battle of Yorktown.

Stymied in the North, England in 1780 initiated a “Southern strategy,” the state‐by‐state reinstallation of loyalist governments. Georgia and South Carolina fell, and North Carolina and Virginia awaited invasion by Gen. Charles Cornwallis. In December 1780, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene assumed command of a tiny, demoralized segment of the Continental Army in the South. Brilliant and innovative, Greene restored discipline and morale, then divided his small force and took the strategic initiative. Following the U.S. victory at the Battle of Cowpens (January 1781), Cornwallis cut communications and launched a pursuit. Greene concentrated his detachments and in a punishing, epic march led the enemy deep into North Carolina.

At Guilford Courthouse on 15 March, Greene sought battle. He copied Daniel Morgan's successful Cowpens tactics—militia backed by Continentals with cavalry in reserve—but without Morgan, who was ill. Cornwallis launched a frontal assault. The militia bolted, but Greene's staunch Maryland and Delaware Continentals held. Desperate, Cornwallis's artillery fired into the melee, killing friend and foe alike. Greene withdrew, leaving Cornwallis a hollow victory (American casualties numbered 261; British 532). Cornwallis left for Virginia, and Greene returned south. In six months, he had liberated the entire region, confining the British to two seacoast strongholds, Savannah and Charleston.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


M. L. Treacy , Prelude to Yorktown: The Southern Campaigns of Nathanael Greene, 1780–1781, 1963.
Franklin and and Mary Wickwire , Cornwallis: The American Adventure, 1970.
John Buchanan , The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, 1997.

John Morgan Dederer

Guilford Courthouse, Battle of

views updated May 14 2018


GUILFORD COURTHOUSE, BATTLE OF (15 March 1781). Pursued closely by General Charles Cornwallis, General Nathanael Greene retreated northward through North Carolina into Virginia, collecting recruits as he went, then turned south again. At Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, Greene arranged his 4,404 men—3,000 were militia—for battle. On the afternoon of 15 March 1781, Cornwallis, with 2,213 veterans, attacked. In the ensuing battle, Greene lost 79 men, and 184 were wounded, while nearly 1,000 militia dispersed to their homes. Cornwallis lost 93 men, 413 were wounded, and 26 were missing—nearly one-fourth of his force. The British held the field, but the battle was a strategic victory for the Americans. Cornwallis soon withdrew to Wilmington, North Carolina, abandoning all the Carolinas save for two or three coastal towns.


Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Rankin, Hugh F. The North Carolina Continentals. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene: Strategist of the American Revolution. New York: Twayne, 1960.

Nelson VanceRussell/a. r.

See alsoRevolution, American: Military History ; Southern Campaigns .

Guilford courthouse, battle of

views updated May 18 2018

Guilford courthouse, battle of, 1781. As late as the spring of 1781 British forces in America were capable of inflicting sharp defeats on the rebels. To follow up his victory at Camden in August 1780, Cornwallis moved northwards towards Virginia, impeded by Nathaniel Greene's forces. At Guilford courthouse on 15 March Greene gave battle. Cornwallis had scarcely 2,000 men and was heavily outnumbered, but carried the day, capturing the American guns. But his own losses were heavy and his army now tiny.

J. A. Cannon

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